Fantasy Hockey goalie draft tiers: Finding quality netminders

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby has won 40 games in three straight seasons. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Neil Parker, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

With scoring down in the NHL, having a quality collection of goaltenders is more important than ever. Because offense has decreased across the board, goaltending numbers have improved, and the position should be attacked early and often throughout drafts and auctions. Ignoring goalies in the front end of your draft can lead to chasing your competition with inferior assets the entire season.

Unlike skaters’ statistical categories, there are capped numbers for goaltenders. Only one win is awarded each game, and there were only 158 shutouts across 2,624 goalie starts last season. Additionally, trying to chip away at poor goalie ratios can be a nightmare. Streaming has also become common practice in most fantasy circles.

On the flip side, when an owner has go-to netminders who can stabilize save percentage and GAA, it opens up more streaming opportunities. Without the fear of blowing up your ratios, it’s easier to target wins, which can also lead to the rare shutout. It’s also important to note that replacement-level production is much more assessable on the waiver wire for skaters than goaltenders.

Still, the position is full of go-to options with varying degrees of upside and reliability. The following tiers are collections of goaltenders with relatively similar fantasy outlooks. Remaining flexible during drafts and auctions is critical, but it’s also important to aim for a high-floor, high-ceiling roster. These tiers are assembled with that in mind. Lean on them to lock up a goaltending corps with the right blend of upside and security to keep your team competitive throughout the season.

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Tier 1: Perennial Vezina Candidates

Braden Holtby, Carey Price

Holtby has won 40 games in three straight seasons, posting an elite .923 save percentage and 2.17 GAA during that stretch. Similarly, Price is an established set-and-forget option. While it’s worth noting that both the Capitals and Canadiens underwent significant offseason personnel changes, Holtby and Price project to post high-end numbers again as long as health permits.

Tier 2: The New Guard

Matt Murray, Cam Talbot, Sergei Bobrovsky, Andrei Vasilevskiy, John Gibson, Jake Allen, Frederik Andersen

This tier is overflowing with upside, and each goalie here is in line for a major workload for a team that’s likely to make the playoffs. Murray’s injury track record is a concern, but he could also finish the season as the No. 1 fantasy goalie. Talbot and Andersen are starting behind up-and-coming clubs with the potential to take another step forward following offseason acquisitions. Bobrovsky is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and has a case to be included in Tier 1, but his history of inconsistency and injuries is still a slight concern. Gibson and Allen have been on the brink of breaking out for a few years, and both took their game to another level last season when handed full-time gigs.

Tier 3: Reliable Veterans

Corey Crawford, Tuukka Rask, Jonathan Quick, Devan Dubnyk, Ben Bishop, Henrik Lundqvist, Cory Schneider, Craig Anderson

Where Tier 2 was loaded with promise, this collection of veterans offers reliability. A case could be made that all eight of these projected full-time starters are past their primes, and in a lot of cases, their names will likely carry more value than their numbers will provide. Still, volume is important, and this tier offers a high fantasy floor.

Crawford, Rask, Quick and Lundqvist have been top-10 staples for years and have the potential to flirt with similar billing again this season. Bishop has landed in a great opportunity to shine with the Stars, whereas Schneider is a ripe candidate for statistical correction after posting an uncharacteristic .908 save percentage and 2.82 GAA last season. Dubnyk and Anderson have proven to be streaky starters who are capable of sterling stretches, but inconsistency — both from season to season and game to game — has been a career-long downer for both.

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Tier 4: Unquestioned Starters

Martin Jones, Pekka Rinne, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, Semyon Varlamov

After inking a six-year extension this summer, Jones is locked in as the No. 1 for the Sharks. His .912 save percentage from last season kept him from that status in the majority of fantasy settings, though. Rinne and Luongo, on the other hand, are quickly distancing themselves from their primes and have younger backups that are could eat into the starting workload over the course of the season. The biggest hindrance ahead of Fleury and Varlamov are the weak skaters in front of them; it’ll be difficult for them to move the needle across all categories as a result.

Tier 5: Timeshare Targets

Steve Mason, Brian Elliott

Both of these goalies have been reliable fantasy options in the past and project to handle the lion’s share of starts for their respective teams. Mason posted an impressive .921 save percentage from 2013-14 through 2015-16, and relocating to Winnipeg could spark a rebound. Interestingly, Elliott replaces Mason in Philadelphia, and the 32-year-old veteran is also looking to bounce back from his worst campaign since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

Tier 6: Upside Grabs

Scott Darling, Mike Smith, Robin Lehner, Antti Raanta

Darling, Smith and Raanta are all starting for new teams in 2017-18 and offer significant upside for various reasons. The Hurricanes posted the fifth-best Corsi For percentage and recorded the fourth-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes at five-on-five, so Darling is in a cushy fantasy setup. Similarly, Smith will start behind one of the best defensive corps in the league. Raanta’s relocation will allow him to be the No. 1 starter for Arizona, and while the Coyotes are a long shot to earn a playoff berth, they’re still a team on the rise. After posting a .924 save percentage and 2.18 GAA over the past three seasons, Raanta’s ratios have room for the negative regression that will likely accompany a starter’s workload. With the offseason improvements the Sabres have made, Lehner’s in line to improve. He owns a rock-solid .921 save percentage through 80 games with Buffalo, so both his fantasy floor and ceiling are on the rise.

Tier 7: Timeshare Fliers

Petr Mrazek, Jimmy Howard, James Reimer, Connor Hellebuyck, Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, Michal Neuvirth, Jacob Markstrom, Anders Nilsson

Ideally, gamers can avoid flier territory, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t sneaky upside in this tier. There are enough soft matchups over the course of a season for all of these netminders to have 10 to 15 quality spot starts. Additionally, injuries ahead of them could lead to extra action, and each of these goalies has flashed upside at some point. While the outlooks for the goalie tandems in Detroit, New York and Vancouver aren’t promising, they’re wide-open competitions, and out-of-nowhere assets have emerged from worse preseason situations.

Tier 8: High-End Backups

Philipp Grubauer, Aaron Dell, Joonas Korpisalo, Ryan Miller, Eddie Lack, Peter Budaj, Juuse Saros, Chad Johnson, Anton Khudobin, Kari Lehtonen, Al Montoya

Depending on league settings, there are plenty of formats in which a backup goaltender on a good team can be more valuable than a timeshare option on a poor team. Additionally, if any of these guys were to see their club’s No. 1 goalie sustain a long-term injury, they’d enjoy a significant fantasy boost. This is also a great collection of netminders to target for streaming against inferior opponents.

Tier 9: Secondary Backups

Cam Ward, Carter Hutton, Antti Niemi, Mike Condon, Laurent Brossoit, Ondrej Pavelec, Anton Forsberg, Louis Domingue, Keith Kinkaid, Calvin Pickard, Darcy Kuemper, Jonathan Bernier, Alex Stalock

There is limited upside with this collection of starters, but if catapulted into a No. 1 role, their start volume alone could warrant fantasy attention. Outside of cavernous settings, it’s best to leave this tier to the waiver wire to start the campaign.

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